Redskins

Playoffs begin now for struggling Steelers

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Playoffs begin now for struggling Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger was talking about another win slipping away. It only sounded like he was talking about his team's enigmatic season.

``We felt good,'' the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said. ``We felt that we had it.''

Until, the Steelers didn't.

One Antonio Brown fumbled punt return and one fantastic interception by Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr on the second play of overtime and Pittsburgh had somehow turned a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead into a 27-24 loss.

``We know that's not Steeler football and that's not what we are capable of,'' Brown said. ``We've got to be better.''

Time's a wasting.

The Steelers (7-7), arguably the NFL's hottest team at the midway point, have dropped four of their last five, their worst stretch since a season-draining five-game slide in 2009 sent the then-defending Super Bowl champions tumbling out of the playoffs.

Things aren't quite as dire this time around. Wins over Cincinnati (8-6) and Cleveland (5-9) in the next two weeks and Pittsburgh will advance to the postseason for the third straight year. The Steelers have won 13 of the last 20 meetings in Pittsburgh with the Bengals and Cleveland has triumphed just twice in the Steel City since the franchise was reborn in 1999.

``I think we still have a chance to right our wrongs here,'' tight end Heath Miller said. ``We've got two games left. We just have to keeping chipping away at it.''

Something the Steelers have only done with intermittent success this fall. Pittsburgh started 2-3 before ripping off four straight wins, including a 24-20 win in New Jersey on Nov. 4 over the Giants that seemed to signal a return to dominance.

They never quite got there.

A sprained right shoulder and a dislocated rib to Roethlisberger on Nov. 12 blunted Pittsburgh's momentum and the Steelers have spent the last month squandering countless chances to become a major factor in a wide-open AFC.

Another loss and they won't even be a minor one.

``We understand where we are in this thing and the margin of error is zero,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.

While Roethlisberger, as is his custom, shouldered the blame for the loss, there was plenty to go around.

The battered secondary - which included former practice squad player Josh Victorian and second-year cornerback Curtis Brown seeing extended playing time - allowed Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to rack up 341 yards passing. The defense registered just one sack and recorded just one turnover and the running game continued to struggle. The trio of Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey managed just 67 yards on 15 carries, the fifth time in the last six games the Steelers failed to top 100 yards rushing.

Still, Pittsburgh appeared to be in control thanks to Roethlisberger. A month removed from a rib injury that threatened his aorta and a bum shoulder that made it difficult to handle his newborn son, Roethlisberger passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns while rallying Pittsburgh from deficits of 10-0 and 17-10 to take a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers defense held Dallas on four plays and Brown went out to try and give Pittsburgh solid field position to close it out. Brown was a Pro Bowler as a kick returner last year but has struggled with ball security at times. He was in the midst of a lengthy return when Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler prodded it free and Dallas recovered at the Pittsburgh 44.

The game was tied six plays later and the Steelers never threatened again. Two snaps into overtime Roethlisberger tried to hit Mike Wallace on an out pattern only to have Carr dive in front of it and return it the Pittsburgh 1.

Instead of heading home with another back-against-the-wall win, Pittsburgh has six days to recover from its fifth loss by a touchdown or less this year.

``We have no choice but to put it behind us,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``We control our own destiny. At the end of the day, that is all you can ask for.

``We just have to go back and try to get these next two.''

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NOTES: The Steelers reinstated running back Rashard Mendenhall on Monday. Mendenhall was suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team. The Steelers received a roster exemption and will not have to make a corresponding move until Tuesday afternoon. Pittsburgh promoted RB Baron Batch last week to fill Mendenhall's spot. ... The Steelers are 2-2 in the AFC North so far with two games left.

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Redskins Talk live from Miami for Super Bowl week: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk live from Miami for Super Bowl week: How to watch, live stream, listen

Before the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers play for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Redskins Talk crew will break down the Redskins and happenings around the NFL.

JP Finlay and Mitch Tischler will welcome special guests everyday from Tuesday to Friday, live from Radio Row in Miami.

The Redskins are in the midst of a busy time, ushering in a new era under the direction of newly minted head coach Ron Rivera. With the NFL Combine, free agency and the draft right around the corner, Redskins Talk has your fix with analysis, discussion and high-profile guests. 

Here's everything you need to know.

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John Carlson's return to All-Star Game further cements his place among NHL's elite

John Carlson's return to All-Star Game further cements his place among NHL's elite

ST. LOUIS -- During the "Young Guns" era of the Capitals, Washington's hockey team was known for one thing and one thing only: Offense. Even the biggest name defenseman on the roster, Mike Green, was an offensive defenseman. He was among one of the top offensive producers in the game, but his defensive acumen often left much to be desired. When Green left Washington, John Carlson was quickly painted with the same brush.

A defenseman who can put up numbers playing with the Caps? Well, he must not be any good defensively. That perception followed Carlson for many years and he never seemed to get the recognition that his all-around play warranted.

Now in his second straight All-Star Game, that perception finally seems to have changed. Now there is no question that Carlson ranks among the top defensemen in the league, at least according to some of the game's biggest stars.

"I enjoy watching his highlights and just seeing where I can pick up from him," Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. "He's having a great year and it's good for him."

"I just feel like he's been on fire right from the first game of the year," said Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, who won the Norris Trophy last year as the league's top defenseman. "To be able to put up those type of numbers, trust me, it's looking a lot easier than it really is out there."

Carlson has finished in the top-five in the Norris in each of the past two seasons, but has never been a finalist. Now at the All-Star Break he appears to be the front-runner.

The Pro Hockey Writers' Association released its midseason awards on Thursday, a good reflection of where the trophy races stand at this point in the season. Carlson was voted No. 1 for the Norris. That should come as no surprise considering the historic season Carlson is having.

Through 49 games, Carlson has 60 points, the most among all defensemen. That puts him on pace for exactly 100 points by the end fo the season, a mark that has not been reached by a blue liner since Brian Leetch in the 1991-92 season. Heck, no defenseman has even reached 90 points since Ray Bourque in 1993-4. That's how rare and how special Carlson's current season is.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," T.J. Oshie said of Carlson's season. "Ever since I got to the Caps, you can kind of tell that he wasn't fully matured yet and his game wasn't to the level that it was going to get to yet. Over the last four and a half years now, he seems to just keep growing, keep getting better, keep getting smarter, more experienced. "

One-hundred points is a special number among defensemen as plenty noted at All-Star media day.

"It's pretty special," Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "I mean, 100 points, that's a lot of points. Just for him to be on pace for that is pretty special."

"For a lot of guys it's unrealistic so you don't really focus too much about it," Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said, "But with the way he's playing and with the consistencies he's having with the production this year, I hope he breaks it."

But while Carlson's offensive production is certainly driving the Norris conversation, that is not why he is looked upon so highly around the league. He is praised as one of the top defensemen because of what he is doing at both ends of the ice.

"As a D-man, you look back, you talk about offensive defensemen, you talk about defensive defensemen. Nowaday you talk about two-way defensemen and John Carlson is a great two-way defenseman," Hedman said. "He plays against another team's top lines, power play, PK and production at that rate is unheard of."

For those who work with Carlson, the attention and praise Carlson is finally getting is overdue. To them, his play is only confirming what they already knew, that he is one of the best defensemen in the game.

"We're not perfect in any aspect of our game right now, but we're in a good spot because of John Carlson," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He's really received some more recognition than he has in the past and it's all well-deserved."

"Everyone talks about the points he has which are pretty amazing and pretty special," Oshie said. "But his play all around, playing PK, playing big minutes defensively, to play against other team's top units and top lines, in my eyes I think he's the best defenseman in the league."

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